Can Innovation Save 1.3 Million Lives Each Year?

Rightfully so, the global community reacts in outrage when terrorists take the lives of innocent citizens. Millions walk in solidarity to stomp out breast cancer, while entire communities take to the streets in protest over deadly violence. But we seem to just accept the 1.3 million deaths – and 50 million injuries – related to auto accidents. In fact, car crashes claim more lives each year than war, malaria, terrorism, murder, breast cancer, suicide, or illegal drugs.

We attack these other global issues with urgency and outrage, driven to eradicate these insidious problems. Yet we seem to think of auto-related deaths and injuries as simply a part of life.

Samir Salman will have none of it. As the CEO of Continental Corporation’s NAFTA division, Salman and his team are on a mission: to put an end to auto deaths and accidents once and for all. It turns out that nearly 90% of car accidents are caused by human error. So the Continental team is working tirelessly to bring autonomous driving to the mainstream, hoping to put a massive dent in the global problem of car crashes.

I had the opportunity to go for a ride in a self-driving car prototype with Mr. Salman. Admittedly, I was a bit nervous as we raced down a crowded highway at 70 mph with no hands on the wheel, but after a while I was able to fully grasp the possibilities. In addition to saving lives, automated driving could reduce rush hour traffic by 50% or more. It can reduce fuel consumption, increase productivity, and save millions of hours per year for drivers.

According to Salman, the technology will be fully ready by 2025, but the tech isn’t the biggest hurdle. Regulatory challenges, security, and driver acceptance are all on the minds of his team as they race toward a cure. These are hard problems that require enormous tenacity, grit, and resiliency to solve.

Will Continental enjoy commercial success by pioneering fully autonomous driving? Sure. But that’s not what fires up a team for long hours and sacrifice. The money will come as a byproduct of pursuing a higher calling – to save lives and make the world a better place.

As a leader, you may wonder why your team lacks motivation. Perhaps your crew is all too quick to punch out at 5pm sharp and isn’t demonstrating the drive you’d like to see. Instead of blaming the team, try looking in the mirror. Great leaders inspire action by working toward a mission far greater than healthy gross margins. People bring their full arsenals of creativity, passion, and intensity when they’re doing work that matters. The more important the calling, the more commitment you’ll receive from your team. Innovation doesn’t happen by cracking the whip or offering a bonus – it’s harnessed through the pursuit of a worthy cause.

Zoom out from your quarterly financial targets, and re-focus on greater meaning and purpose. How can your work change the world? How can you make history?

Chase money and you’ll seldom find it. Pursue greatness, and the economic rewards will follow. Focus your team on the biggest possible impact to unlock innovation, conquer your most pressing challenges, and enjoy sustainable success.

Samir Salman is fueled to save 1.3 million lives. What fuels you?